Question: The primary motivation for European powers (and others) to engage in imperialism in the 19th century was nationalistic pride.
Imperialist countries, which considered themselves sovereign and all powerful, projected their power to the peripheries through administrative, military, and economic facades. National pride was not the primary motivator for imperialist expansion in the 19th century; instead, economic needs and military strength, which involved resource and wealth exploitation in the virgin colonies in the interest of the metropoles, were the key motivators.
National Pride not the Primary Motivator
Since imperial states were confident that acquiring more land and expanding their territories was a show of patriotism, pride, might and dominance, they embarked on the journey to conquer the inferior and uncivilized. However, it is important to note that national pride or patriotism was not the primary motivator but simply a support framework. It was a tool used for supremacy battle between European metropoles (Penrose, 2012). By acquiring as many lands as possible, which involved establishing navy and army bases, they were in a position to defend their interests abroad (Porter, 2016). Had national pride been the fundamental motive, the whole ideology of imperialism would have been vague. Europeans and others were driven by an element more important to the sustainability of their nations. Since imperialism began during the industrial age, the primary motive was growth and economic gains. Therefore, Europe established frameworks that would exacerbate the motive such as religion, patriotism, and ethnocentrism.
Imperial administrations and companies under the governments sought to maximize economic gains. The Industrial Revolution meant that most of the industrialized European giants, such as Britain and France, produced more than they consumed domestically (Porter, 2016). Bankers and businesspersons had excess money to invest irrespective of the risk. Therefore, it was necessary to expand globally in search of the market for excess goods and services. Overseas nations provided cheap labor and a constant supply of raw materials such as rubber and oil (Romano, 2010). Thus, imperialists thought it necessary to retain firm control of the virgin nations through tribute and plunder to improve their economic positions. It, therefore, implied establishing colonies under their direct supervision to operate effectively and efficiently.
It is also important to note that imperial economies technological advancements enabled smooth penetration and acquisition of resources that would power their economies. Africa and Asia, at the time of the scramble, had an inferior infrastructure, used antiquated weapons, and were infested with ailments that were new to whites, such as malaria (Romano, 2010). Had Europeans lacked the appropriate technology to handle the harsh Asian and African terrain, their imperialistic zest would have extinguished. Advanced medical knowledge developed quinine to aid in fighting malaria. Availability of steamboats, the telegraph, and modern weaponry, such as machine guns, augmented the Europeans ability to communicate and quash any uprising that threatened their dominance (Romano, 2010). While poverty in the colonies was to the detriment of the industrialized nations since very few had enough incomes to purchase European goods, European countries acquired significant amounts of raw materials that built their economies.
Show of Political and Military Strength
Imperialism took place during a period of rivalry among European nations was intense. The only way to show power was through the acquisition of more land to expand territory. Exercising dominance of vast amounts translated to global prestige and influence. A significant percentage of imperialists were also confident that dominating colonies was an emblem of a nation’s greatness. It was a period when military dexterity set a nation’s strength (Lenin, 2010). For example, Countries such as Britain established sturdy navy bases in different parts of the world to seize harbors and build coaling stations necessary during wartime as well as ensure national security. Britain also occupied the Suez Canal in Egypt because it was a strategic trade route connecting Europe with South Africa and East Asia (Romano, 2010). Therefore, a strong military presence abroad acted as security for the nation’s interest and its agents abroad.
Military strength was necessary because it ensured national security against strong adversaries and safety of agents overseas as well as dominance over colonies, particularly in Asia and Africa. However, economic growth contributed immensely. Potential colonies provided markets for the surplus goods produced domestically, cheap labor, and immense untapped natural resources that could help build European economies. Religion, technological advancements, and white supremacy elements played a support role in exacerbating imperialism. They gave Europeans and others the notion that they were the only dominant natural human species on earth.
Lenin, V. (2010). Imperialism : the highest stage of capitalism. London: Penguin.
Penrose, E. (2012). European imperialism and the partition of Africa. Hoboken: Taylor and Francis.
Porter, A. (2016). European imperialism, 1860-1914. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Macmillan.
Romano, J.M. (2010). AP European History with CD-ROM (2nd ed.). Wiley Publishing Inc.